aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 38: I Will Not Cease From Mental Fight

Hershel of Ostropol came to an inn and asked for a warm meal. The innkeeper demanded he pay in advance, and when Hershel had no money, he told him to get out. Hershel raised himself up to his full height, looked the innkeeper in the eye menacingly, and said “Give me my meal, or I will do what my father did? You hear me? I will DO WHAT MY FATHER DID!” The terrified innkeeper served the traveller a nice warm meal. After dinner, when Hershel was calmer, he ventured to ask exactly what Hershel’s father had done. “That is simple,” answered Hershel. “When my father asked someone for a meal, and they refused to give it to him – then he would go to bed hungry.”
— Old Jewish folktale

May 13, 2017

Blood bubbled up from the ground in little springs. The trees were growing skulls where the fruit should be. I concluded that I was somewhere from Aztec mythology. Probably not one of the good parts.

It was neither a jungle nor a desert. More of a grassy valley with bushes and occasional trees. The sun had a face locked in a perpetual grimace. I had a vague memory that Aztec mythology was really bad.

There was a directionality to the world. I followed it. It led me up a hill strewn with rocks. I spoke the Ascending Name. Nothing happened. Okay. This was somewhere else. The usual rules didn’t apply. Things started coming back to me. The Drug Lord. Peyote. I had taken peyote. Now I was…where?

[Ana?] I asked.

[Aaron!] came the answer. Then a flood of pure relief and happiness. No affection, no confusion, just gladness that I was here.

[What happened? Where are you? Are you safe?]

[I’m not sure. Somebody must have drugged my dinner. I’m…fine. The Drug Lord tried to extract the Vital Name from me. He couldn’t. That’s all I know.]

I reached the top of the hill. Below me lay a city. I recognized it and drew its name out of half-forgotten memories. Teotihuacan. Birthplace Of The Gods. The greatest city of the pre-Columbian Americas. The great street down its center was the Avenue of the Dead. The two great structures that towered above the rest were the Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon. The pictures I had seen made them look austere and crumbling. Here they were covered in bright colors and streaming banners. Also, a waterfall of blood was flowing down the southern staircase of the Pyramid of the Moon, looking for all the world like a macabre escalator.

The real Teotihuacan had been dead for millennia. This one teemed with activity. Ghostly shades, all. I wondered if they were the souls of the Drug Lord’s captives. I double-checked my own arms. At least I looked normal.

[Where are you?] I asked.

[On top of some sort of demonic ziggurat.]

[A demonic ziggurat. That’s wrong on so many levels.]

Ana didn’t laugh, which under the circumstances I guessed was kind of predictable.

[Is it the one with the blood escalator, or the other one?]

[The one with the blood escalator, definitely.]

I started walking down into the city.

[I’m coming to rescue you,] I said. [Hold on.]

There was no answer, which again made sense given the circumstances.

I broke off a branch from one of the skull-trees, a process which was terrifying but ultimately went without incident. It also proved unnecessary. The shades in the city had less than no interest in me. This was just as well, since the stick pretty clearly wouldn’t have hurt them. Some of them passed right through me. I felt nothing. My only moment of panic was a sudden hissing noise near my feet. I smacked what I thought was a snake, only to barely miss what looked like a spinal column with a skull at one end. It slithered away, hissing and scolding. Aztec mythology really sucked. I gained a sudden appreciation for Hernando Cortes.

My other problem was getting up the pyramid. The Ascending Name wasn’t working, and the stairs were covered in flowing blood. I circled around until I found another staircase. It looked more promising. Using my branch as a staff, I climbed the steps.

Atop the pyramid was a ball court, and in the middle of the court was Ana. I ran to her and hugged her. She hugged me back.

Then a sort of mist or glamour fell away, and I saw the Drug Lord.

I had expected something horrible, worse than the spine-snake, but he was more humanoid than not. He stood about six feet tall. His skin was pale green like cactus-flesh, with tiny little thorns sticking out of it. His two arms were big and broad, like the arms of a cactus. His face was big and round like a cactus barrel. He wore a modest brown poncho, but his mien was kingly, and there were gold flecks in his eyes. He was sitting in a rocking chair, rocking back and forth, and in one hand he held a wooden cane.

“Welcome,” he said, in an aristocratic Spanish accent. I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t seen him before. Maybe he could just appear and disappear at random? Maybe this was all his dream, and he had total control over what we saw or didn’t? Whatever it meant, it didn’t bode well for my ability to take him on with a skull-tree branch and zero Names.

“I came,” I told him. “Now you have to let her go. You promised.”

The Drug Lord smiled. “Many years ago,” he told me, “I used to watch the Teotihuacani sacrifice captives to the Sun God, to give him the strength to fight off the Night Goddess. Sometimes, their wars would go poorly, and there would be no captives. Then one of the priests of Teotihuacan would step up to save the day.”

He paused for a second to see if I appreciated the pun. I hate to admit it, but I did.

“You,” said the Drug Lord, “remind me of one of those priests. This is admirable. But also bad, for you.”

“All I said was that I’d take the drugs. I didn’t say I’d cooperate with you.”

I saw another smile play on the Drug Lord’s big face. “I didn’t say you would have to.”

“I don’t even know the Name,” I told him. “We forgot it. Both of us. I don’t even care if you believe me. It’s true.”

“Yes,” said the Drug Lord. “I gathered that from Ana’s mind.” After hugging me, she had gone sort of frozen. I had a suspicion something bad had happened to her mind. “I will have to pull it out of wherever it has vanished to. That will be easier with two people than it would be with one.”

Then he was in my head, and I could feel him like a wind, scouring my thoughts, blasting me to the bone until I felt like I would end up like one of the spine-snakes. Every distraction was batted away, all my attempts to direct my own train of thought pushed aside like reeds. He zeroed in on the Vital Name.

For a moment I wrested control of my awareness from him and I was back on the ball court. He was right in front of me now, one broad green hand touching my forehead, the other still holding the cane for support. I lunged at him with the branch; he knocked it out of my hands. I punched him in the face. “Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow!” I screamed. Punching somebody made of cactus had been the worst idea.

Then he was back, searching for the Vital Name, and there was nothing I could do. Closer and closer he came, winding through my memories. Not enough left of my consciousness to object, to even form a coherent thought, but not enough gone that I didn’t feel the violation on some deep level.

He was in the right part of my brain now. I could feel it.

ROS-AILE-KAPHILUTON, he pulled from me, as if with tweezers. MIRAKOI-KALANIEMI-TSHANA. Something instinctual in me doubled down like a bear trap, but he gave it no heed. KAI-KAI-EPHSANDER…

A second time I broke away from him. This time I ran. I ran to the edge of the ball court, only to find that the staircase up the pyramid was shifting places, like the winding of a snake, moving too fast for me to get a foothold on it.

The Drug Lord walked up beside me, leisurely, like I was a wayward puppy. Ana followed. The three of us stood on the ledge and stared down at Teotihuacan below. From this vantage point, I could see that its architecture encoded some of the same glyphs as the Lesser Key of Solomon.

“A beautiful city, is it not?” asked the Drug Lord. He placed a broad arm against my back, cutting off any hope of escape. “I made it. A long time ago. I came here from a distant place, and found people who lived in mud huts. I went into the cacti, and the cacti went into the people, and they learned new things from me. I was Quetzalcoatl the feathered serpent, Tezcatlipoca the smoking mirror, Huitzilopochtli the left-handed hummingbird. I built as I pleased until Uriel closed the gates that fed me, and now that the gates are open I will build again.”

[Ana, do you have any ideas?]

[I think we’re past the point at which we had much choice in any of this.]

Then he was in my mind again, right where he had left off, like a dog digging a hole, flinging dirt everywhere. GALISDO, he drew from my mind. TAHUN. Then suddenly we were back on the ledge, the Drug Lord using a hand to shield his eyes from the sun and peering down at the city below.

A figure was walking down the Avenue of the Dead, alone. Tall, lithe. Very fast. As we watched, it reached the base of the pyramid. It didn’t bother to go around, just started climbing the staircase, wading through the blood as if it wasn’t there. The face came into focus.

“Jane!” I shouted.

Then she was with us on the ball court. For a second, we all just looked at each other, taking stock. Me. Jane. The Drug Lord. Ana.

“Let them go,” said Jane, “or I’ll do what my father did.”

I was familiar with the Hershel of Ostropol stories. Ana was familiar with the Hershel of Ostropol stories. And that, I presumed, meant the Drug Lord was now familiar with the Hershel of Ostropol stories. Which meant that, as far as bluffs went, this left something to be desired. Sure enough, the Drug Lord lifted a spiny arm and pointed it at Jane. Some sort of unseen force lashed out at her, knocked her off the pyramid with the force of a freight train, smashed her into the stony street below.

“Mortals,” said the Drug Lord, dismissively.

With all my strength, I rushed at the Drug Lord, kicked him right in the gut. Of course, the spines pierced my shoe and stabbed my foot and I fell down, doubled over in pain. “Ow!” I said. “Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow!” The Drug Lord looked down at me bemusedly, a smile still playing on his features. Ana covered her face with her palms.

“Aaron,” said the Drug Lord. “Stay calm, stop moving, just a second more, then nobody else needs to die.”

He reached an arm out toward my head.

Then something moved behind him, and the Drug Lord wheeled around to confront it. Jane walked towards us from the far end of the ball court. She still wore her black leather jacket and black leather pants, but her long black hair had streaks of white in it now, and her eyes had flecks of silver, and her face looked…different? Somehow more? She looked almost happy. I knew who she was now. There was a very big sword in her hand, so big that by rights she shouldn’t have been able to hold it. It definitely hadn’t been there before. “Let them go,” said Jane, “or else I’m warning you, I’ll do what my father did.

For the first time, I saw the Drug Lord’s little smile fade. “Go away, mortal!” he commanded, and a wave of fire and wind crashed against her.

But Jane raised her hand, and the attack dissipated. “Mortal?” she asked. “You call me mortal, you overgrown weed?” The fire passed all through her and all around her, as effortlessly as air. “I was born of sky and light. I am the ending of all things in beauty and fire. I am Cometspawn. And if you don’t let those two go, then as God is my witness, I WILL DO WHAT MY FATHER DID!”

The Drug Lord paused, collected his thoughts. “Jinxiang West,” he said. “Forgive me. I didn’t recognize you when you weren’t yelling.” He placed his cane before him like a weapon, and I saw for the first time the strange ideoglyphs burnt into the surface. But Jane held the great sword Sigh in front of her, and they began to circle one another, cannily, warily.

What happened next was bizarre, and something I had never seen before with mortal eyes. Maybe something was flowing back into me from the Drug Lord; maybe it was some feature of this place. Jane somehow took Teotihuacan, lopped off the Teotih, and somehow analogized it to TOTAKH, the the Hebrew word “cannon”. Then she shot the Drug Lord with it. The Drug Lord grabbed the remaining half-word, Huacan, and analogized it with Hebrew HACHAN, meaning gracefulness, and gracefully avoided the cannonball.

Jane grabbed and flipped HACHAN around, making it NUACH, to rest, and with a pull at the word she exhausted the energy out of the Drug Lord. He took pronunciation of HUACAN and made it into the English word WAKEN, restoring his energy. The two of them circled each other warily, waiting for an opening.

“I have your True Name!” said Jane. “You were an angel in days of old! I have your True Name! You fell from heaven back when Sataniel was pure! I have your True Name! You built Babel when mankind was young. I have your True Name! You invented alcohol to keep men compliant! I have your True Name! The Comet King knew all angels, and vouchsafed me their secrets! I have your True Name! You are Samyazaz, first of watchers! Release your prisoners, or I will do what my father did!

The Drug Lord teetered on the edge of the ball court, but he didn’t yield. Instead, he took the T, O, and T from the front of Teotihuacan to make TOT, the German word for “dead”, tried to strike a mortal blow at Jane. Jane took a C, H, A, and I from the same word to make CHAI, Hebrew for “life”, and deflect the attack. Then she took the remaining letters, NAUE, flipped and twisted the U into an M to get NAME, and spoke the Fulminant Name. A lightning bolt hit the Drug Lord straight in his cactus head. He caught on fire, burnt to ashes within seconds. It didn’t help. A new Drug Lord avatar just appeared on the other side of her, rushed on her with his cane. Jane parried just in time.

“Gonna hide from me, are you?” she shouted at him. “I can tear this whole dimension apart if I have to! Give up!”

[Aaron], said Ana. [I think I have a plan. Give me the Vital Name.]

[What? Why?]

The Drug Lord was trying to rearrange Jane’s NAME into MANE, the Latin word for a dead spirit. He was having some success, and already the dead spirits of the city floor were coming to his aid, swarming Jane, who sliced through them with her magic sword but seemed a bit outnumbered. She tried to wrench the word back into NAME, but the Drug Lord held firm.

[Look, I know this sounds crazy. But the Drug Lord’s in my mind. And that means I’m in his. You’ll notice it too when you’ve been here a little longer. We’re not supposed to be in this realm intact, we should be manes like the others, he’s left us intact so he can get the Name from us, but I’m starting to…know the things that he knows. This dimension. It’s part of his mind. But not only part of his mind. He built it. If I can give it a soul, it becomes separate from him, it’ll drag him out. I think there’s just enough of Jinxiang’s NAME left to make it work.]

[That is the craziest idea I have ever heard, and it was my crazy idea that got us into this whole mess.]

[I know it sounds ridiculous, but I can see it. It’s what he’s thinking right now. He’s terrified of it.]

[I don’t even know the Name!]

[That’s the other thing. I can see how he’s going to piece it together, once he has both of our misinterpretations. I think I can do the same.]

Jane and the Drug Lord’s tug-of-war over MANE shattered the word into a thousand AMENs. Jane tried to piece together SHEM, Hebrew “name”, by turning the S into an SH, but the manes wouldn’t cooperate. She scowled and slashed them into pieces with her sword, only for the Drug Lord to almost knock her off balance.

[Ana, this is seriously the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. Not to mention that if I told you the Name, the Drug Lord, who’s listening in on us for sure, would overheard.]

[The Drug Lord can’t use Names himself. He’d have to find a human to use it for him. If Jinxiang can kill him before then…]

[You can’t kill the Drug Lord!]

[Aaron. Please. Do you trust me?]

In brilliance born of desperation, Jane dropped to the ground and touched the ball court, drawing out the essence of the ancient Mesoamerican ball game. From the first two and the last two letters of MESOAMERICAN, she got another NAME, and used the Fulminant Name on the Drug Lord again. Another body gone. Another body springing up in seconds. But this time she was ready. She lunged at him with Sigh. They started fighting physically now, sword against cane.

[I trust Ana,] I said. [But I just realized that a lot of things would make more sense if this voice were actually the Drug Lord.]

[Aaron!] she pled. [Please! Orca the covenant! Shabbatlenose dolphin! Manatee of manatees, all is manatee!]

[You already used the first one before. And the second one is terrible. And the third one isn’t even about whales.]

[It’s about marine mammals!] Ana thought. There was a tinge of desperation to it.

[You cannot serve both God and mammal] I quoted at her.

[Aaron, please! This is serious! We met one night while I was on a ladder and you were working at Cash for God! When you said you loved me, I made you eat a habanero pepper! The last time we talked you were in a hotel room and you said you went kayaking with a pretty girl!]

[All things that the Drug Lord could know if he could read your mind.]

Jane had drawn up another Name from somewhere and used the Avalanche Name, trying to collapse the pyramid. Bits of it crumbled off, but overall it held firm. The Drug Lord was trying to summon more of the dead grey spirits to his aid.

[Anything I can say is something the Drug Lord could know if he read my mind! I could tell you my deepest loves and fears, how much you mean to me, what I felt when I said I was coming to rescue you. I could preach to you about theodicy, say things that are so Ana no one else in the world would ever come up with them. And you could still just say the Drug Lord was reading my mind, or was running my mind for his own purposes, or had taken over my mind. I agree. There’s nothing I can do to prove anything to you. Sometimes you have to have faith. My name is Ana Thurmond and I am your friend. You trusted me enough to sacrifice everything to come here. Please trust me now.]

[I’ll trust you,] I thought [if you can answer me one question]


[Ana ba’ey mishal b-shlamek?] I asked her.


[It’s a simple question, Ana. Ana ba’ey mishal b-shlamek?]

[Aaron. Please. I don’t know what you think you’re doing. But you have to trust me.]

[Ana ba’ey mishal b-shlamek?]

[I’m sorry, Aaron. I don’t know what you mean.]

The ball court was swarming with shades now. Jane was trying to twist the kabbalah into something, but the Drug Lord was matching her every movement, unraveling her work before anything she did could take effect.

[Samyazaz,] I said. [You tried so hard. You almost had me. And why shouldn’t you? Anything Ana can think, you can think. Anything she can feel, you feel. And what are we humans, you asked yourself, besides bundles of thoughts and feelings? So easy to play. So easy to manipulate. Well, maybe. But there’s one thing you’ll never be able to do. One part of being human that God’s own laws decree you can never copy, no matter how hard you try. You forgot one thing, Samyazaz. And that was – ANGELS CAN’T UNDERSTAND ARAMAIC!]

I grabbed my branch from the ground and hit Ana as hard as I could. At the same time, I took all of my rage, all of my love for Ana and anger at anyone who would dare to harm her, and sent it through the telepathic link, a weaponized scream of hatred and defiance.

And for just a second, the Drug Lord was distracted.

And in that second, Jane unraveled the kabbalistic knots, broke apart the MANES, used the aleph to mean divinity, twisted the M into a W into a vav, and got V’NES. “And a miracle…”

And a miracle occurred. Her sword glowed white with holy fire, she plunged it into the Drug Lord, and it struck true. Not a killing blow. But a disabling one. The cactus-man sunk to his knees.

“Now,” said Jane. “Release your prisoners. Or I swear to God, I will do what my father did.

“The prisoners are yours,” set the Drug Lord, and his body started to fade. Everything started to fade. The bright colors of Teotihuacan dulled, the shades flickered and sputtered, the stones paving the Avenue of the Dead began to melt together.

I felt a presence in my mind.


[Aaron, you are such an idiot, I can not believe you were going to destroy everything to come here and rescue me, I am so angry, and if you’re talking about this years from now don’t you dare say that you felt that the anger was mixed with affection, because it’s just anger, and the Drug Lord could have gotten the Name, and you could have died, and…] It’s awkward to say so, but I could feel through the telepathic link that the anger was mixed with affection. I knew at once that it was the real Ana. It sounds crazy, but if had been this Ana who talked to me atop the pyramid, I would have trusted her absolutely.

[…and if I ever make a pun as bad as “shabbatlenose dolphin”, you should just assume I’m possessed by the Drug Lord again.]

[Ana ba’ey mishal b-shlamek?]

[Fine. A little bit frazzled, and I think I’m going to need to sleep for a long time, but basically fine. And thank you for asking. Really.]

I tried to send her an update on where I was, what was happening, but I was literally shaken out of my trance. “Aaron!” said Jane. She was the one shaking me. “Where are you? Physically. In Las Vegas. Where is your body?”

I hesitated. She was Cometspawn. Something primal in me leapt to obey her. On the other hand, I was finally free. I could flee Las Vegas, flee Nevada, find the name error correction books, everything could still go as planned.

“Snap out of it!” she said. “I don’t know where you are, but he does.” She said he like I should know exactly who she meant. “The Other King. He has spies in the Drug Lord’s mind. He knows exactly what’s going on. He’s looking for you right now. Trust me, you don’t want him finding you.”

“Oh, fuck,” I said, because it made sense. “Jane, how are you even here?”

“It was too dangerous to let you tell the Drug Lord all your secrets, so I took peyote myself. Now where is your body? Tell me now, or else the Other King will beat me to you.”

“How did you even get peyote that quickly?”

“This is Las Vegas, you idiot, how hard do you think it is to find a drug dealer? Tell me where you left your body.

The hallucinatory landscape was beginning to dissolve. The pyramids of Teotihuacan were crumbling.

“I’m on top of Trump Tower,” I said.

“Stay there,” said Jane, and her form melted away.

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236 Responses to Chapter 38: I Will Not Cease From Mental Fight

  1. teucer says:

    … And still no bookend. Intriguing.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Yeah, books 3-5 are apparently going to have to be really fast-paced to fit in the remaining space!

      • The coment king says:

        Books 3-4 of American Gods together were about the last fifth of the book, IIRC. I’m guessing this’ll be similar.

      • Jack V says:

        Or it may turn out to be “oops, longer than expected” 馃檪

        • Jack V says:

          Uh, which isn’t a criticism. I trust Scott to know what he’s doing. But pacing is hard and even if you’re good at it, it’s quite plausible to end up with more story than you’d realised.

      • Madbranch says:

        Book three is just gonna be analysis of laws “of nature” made by Uriel.

      • -_- says:

        I’m going out on a limb and saying “maybe just books 3-4”, with 5 being… differently structured.

        Book 1 was Genesis — and it was the introduction.

        In Book 2, Exodus, both Aaron and Anna left the Bay Area and began wandering, with no sign of stopping.

        Book 3 is Numbers in English, but in Hebrew is Bamidbar, In The Desert — and we’re shaping up to end Book 2 with Aaron still in Vegas.

        Book 4 will be Leviticus, in Hebrew VaYikra, “and he called/shouted/proclaimed”. (There’s some interesting commentary about how the final aleph in that word is written small, which could be interesting to ressurect at the beginning and/or end of Book 4…).

        But important for the larger story, the most iconic usage of the word “VaYikra”, outside of being the name of one of the books, is when this passage is quoted, out loud as a community, multiple times during Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year (on which, I might add, humans are closest to being angels):

        讜址讬旨值证专侄讚 讛謾’ 讘旨侄纸注指谞指謹谉 讜址讬旨执转职讬址爪旨值芝讘 注执诪旨謻讜止 砖讈指謶诐 讜址讬旨执拽职专指芝讗 讘职砖讈值謻诐 讛’變 讜址讬旨址注植讘止吱专 讛’ 讇 注址诇志驻旨指谞指讬讜之 讜址讬旨执拽职专指讗謷 …鈥
        The LORD came down in a cloud; He stood with him there, and proclaimed the name LORD. The LORD passed before him and proclaimed: …

        (Shmot/Exodus 34.5-6)

        This leads into a string of things which are either God’s names, attributes of God, or both.
        This… is the exact thing to lead into a climax.

        Book 5 will be Deuteronomy (/D’varim = “Words”), which in the Torah the entire book is Moshe summarizing the morals and some of the stories and stuff of the previous couple of books.
        So I wouldn’t be all that surprised if Book 5, coming off of the climax at the end/middle of Book 4, is entirely 1 scene and a heck of a lot of Kabbalistic-fighting-with-words, and/or outside the scope of “scenes” in general, following, e.g., the metaphysical consequences of Book 4/the climax in Book 5.

        But. Like. This is wild maybe-guessing-on-a-ricketty-limb.

  2. ton says:

    Glad we finally have confirmation that Jane is not the Comet King’s daughter.

  3. Sniffnoy says:

    OK, I was wrong about the Drug Lord not being Samyazaz! Still feels very off, though.

    • boris says:

      Dammit, I just realized I should have figured it out as soon as I saw the word “ziggurat”.

    • Ninmesara says:

      On one hand it does feel very off, and it is something that comes completely out of the blue with no foreshadowing. On the other hand, it brings the story back to judeo-christian mythology, which in my opinion is a good thing.

      • The coment king says:

        There was some forshadowing: we knew Samyazaz was going to be important, that he liked building things and using human labour. More importantly, we saw how Gadiriel changed from being a fairly concrete angelic adviser to the spirit of celebrity. We should have expected Samyazaz to change into something even stranger.
        (I still considered it unlikely that Samyazaz was the Drug Lord until this chapter started with ziggurats, so I can’t say it felt *that* expected, though).

        • gwern says:

          Gadiriel wasn’t all that evil, though. Evil with a very small e. The Drug Lord is Evil with a bold gothic font E. I certainly was shocked because it seemed like such a huge turnaround from the sympathetic and decent Samyazaz we saw last. The touch of Thamiel?

          • LHC says:

            He wasn’t sympathetic before, only pathetic.

          • LPSP says:

            I’m not seeing either the capital E evil in the Drug Lord, or the decency or any intense sympathy in Samyazaz. Sam was in league with Thamiel, and generally a selfish, indolent, two-faced character focussed on personal aggrandisment than anything else. And the Drug Lord is exactly the same, which isn’t very evil.

      • Peffern says:

        I didn’t think it was that far off. The biggest things we knew about Samyazaz from his chapter were that he liked mind-altering substances (namely alcohol), ziggurats, and manipulating people. Everyone in my book club was guessing the Drug Lord was going to turn out to be him. Is it really that far of a leap from alcohol to peyote?

        • Ninmesara says:

          A leap from alcohol to peyote is not a big leap indeed. In my opinion the big leap here is from subtly influencing a culture to completely mind controlling millions of people. This is 100% subjective, of course.

          • Jonatan Kilhamn says:

            There’s also the fact that the total control via drugs is similar to the fault in building the tower of Babel 鈥 the humans could not communicate, and thus not coordinate. Here’s Samyazaz’ trying a second time.

            And once again being foiled by a language-related mishap!

          • LPSP says:

            And then there’s the poetry in the peyote-borg’d humans being unable to use Names – just like the victims of the fall of Babel, they, in a sense, cannot speak.

        • B_Epstein says:

          You can add to that the inability to use names and being shut out by Uriel’s machine.

        • You have a book club?!

          But also – I wrote the character of Samyazaz and the character of the Drug Lord separately, before realizing they were going to be the same person. Later I was thinking about how to solve the problem of the Drug Lord being sort of out-of-place in a story that otherwise had a pretty coherent magic/mythology system, and I decided the two characters fit together. I can’t remember if I placed him in Teotihuacan before or after I made the connection.

      • LPSP says:

        I didn’t place any weight on the possibility of Sam being the DL, but in hindsight the pieces were there. DL is associated with ancient south America, a place notable for its ziggurats. Sam pioneered the use of drugging humans into compliance with alcohol. He loved to compel people as completely as possible.

        If the twist were to be improved, it would be via other plausible candidates (watchers?) to the Drug Lord, not making Samyazaz more explicitly a fit.

    • Jack V says:

      I thought that. But I’m not sure I was right. Samyazaz was sympathetic when he was talking to the other angels. But he was pretty uncaring when he was talking to or about humans. I didn’t *want* to imagine he could be such a tyrant because I liked him. But when I checked his actual behaviour, it seemed to fit very well.

      I see Scott hadn’t originally intended that, but it still seems to fit well.

      • boris says:

        That’s a good way of putting it. I had a sympathetic view of him because he wasn’t with Thamiel and seemed kind of harmless, live and let live. But it’s not out of character, really, for an angel on Earth who had been using a slave labor force to build ziggurats for… fun? It also explains why the Drug Lord has posed such a threat, being the strategist he is.

  4. Aran says:

    鈥淚 don鈥檛 even know the Name,鈥

    And if he did, well really, what’s it to ya?

    • Aran says:

      Side note: Hallelujah actually came up on my playlist shortly after I got to this part.

      But I’ve been listening to Leonard Cohen pretty much non-stop lately after this story introduced me to him, so that’s even less of a coincidence than most things.

    • The coment king says:

      Speaking of that,

      She tied you to a kitchen chair,
      she broke your throne, she cut your hair…

      worries me. We know the Comet King’s downfall had something to do with his wife (who, it seems, he met not too long before). That verse is about Samson – who, shortly after he met his wife, was betrayed by her and captured by the philistines. Afterwards, he was given one last chance to do a feat of strength, where he crushed the temple of the philistines, halting their progress and dying in the process.
      We know that, like Samson, TCK went to one last fight after his downfall, where he injured (but did not destroy) his enemy and died in the attempt. Does this imply his wife betrayed him?

  5. null says:

    In Unsong, Chekov has a shotgun.

  6. Daniel says:

    dsotm wins!

    But there鈥檚 one thing you鈥檒l never be able to do. One part of being human that God鈥檚 own laws decree you can never copy, no matter how hard you try. You forgot one thing, Samyazaz. And that was 鈥 ANGELS CAN鈥橳 UNDERSTAND ARAMAIC!


  7. Felix Tamen says:

    OK, so what did Jane’s father do? I think the implication is that he killed an angel. Which one?

    First things first: which angels are even left? By my count, we know or suspect that Uriel, Thamiel, Gadiriel, and Metatron were recently active:

    1. Thamiel is still very much at work in the world, alas.

    2. Uriel is presumed alive, because someone is running the cosmos. On the other hand, it’s possible the Comet King killed him and put Jane in his place (as foreshadowed earlier).

    3. Gadiriel was puppet-mastering Reagan as of about 30 years ago. TCK could have killed Gadiriel, but I count this as unlikely because we don’t have any evidence that Reagan blocked TCK’s plans. And Reagan wasn’t assassinated in the Unsong timeline, was he?

    4. Metatron we haven’t seen directly; in fact, I think all we have are fan theories that he’s the entity you meet when you seek with All Your Heart. Did the Comet King meet Metatron with All Your Heart, and kill him? I doubt it, because we lack a motive, and because, if Metatron were dead, whom would the current crew be seeking?

    Among these possibilities, I count #2 as most likely. Poor Uriel.

    Did I miss any angels

    • The coment king says:

      about 2., I don’t think so, since Aaron refers to him a couple of times as being alive and present. Of course, Aaron could be wrong. Also because Sohu was back in Colorado in 2001.
      Also, you mean Sohu, right?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I mean, Jane’s father (the Comet King) somehow defeated the Drug Lord once before. I think that’s all this is referring to. Not killing some other angel.

    • Fred says:

      Gadiriel was shown to be alive a few chapters ago, with Tom Cruise as her aide.

    • nelshoy says:

      Gadiriel is still alive in the present. Sarah finds her, remember?

      And I don’t think Gabriel died either.

    • Peffern says:

      Do we know what happened to Raziel?

      • Fred says:

        Gadiriel implied he’s Comet West, so it’s likely that he’s still traveling through the far reaches of creation (where “outer space” would be). Maybe he speaks with his grandchildren through dreams, like Jala claimed he did with him.

    • PDV says:

      If you meet Metatron on the road, kill him.

      Another possibility is that The Other King was an angel, and Samyazaz knows that. Crippling him could be just as good as killing him for threat purposes.

    • Aran says:

      I think you’re on the wrong track there:

      The Comet King asks someone to get him a peyote button. He sits in his fortress in Cheyenne Mountain and swallows a piece of cactus. Two hours later, the Mexican forces retreat back towards the Rio Grande.

      The Comet King did something to the Drug Lord in specific, and that’s what I suspect Jane was referring to.

      Whether she actually has the power to follow through on that is anyone’s guess (see also Hershel of Ostropol again).

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      which angels are even left?

      There are lots and lots of angels, including Pirindiel and Amoxiel. It’s the archangels that there only originally were ten of (though all except Metatron, Raziel, Gabriel and Uriel were killed in the war against Thamiel).

    • boris says:

      I assumed this was a reference to what The Comet King did to the Drug Lord… remember? The Comet King took peyote and the Drug Lord retreated across the Rio Grande. I believe the implication was that the Drug Lord was afraid of becoming addicted to the tremendous confidence and certainty that having the Comet King in his domain gave him.

  8. Quixote says:

    YES! Great chapter.

  9. Aran says:

    鈥淟et them go,鈥 said Jane, 鈥渙r I鈥檒l do what my father did.鈥

    Holy shit.

    She really is the Comet King’s daughter?

    • Ninmesara says:

      Is this really surprising? She is a sexy warrior woman with a flying kayak clearly on the same side as the Cometspawn. Where did we last see something with a flying kayak afiliated with the Cometspawn?

    • Angstrom says:

      Confirmed Cometspawn: Jinxiang, Nathanda, Sohu, ???

      I wonder if the fourth Cometspawn is also female. Did I miss something and we already have clues about their identity?

      • The coment king says:

        Yeah, Jala mentioned Sohu had a brother earlier.

      • The coment king says:

        Also, what ethnicity would someone named Nathanda have? I’m not familiar with that name (and going by Jinxiang and Sohu, their mothers named them).

        • LPSP says:

          No idea why I think this, but my gut says Nathanda is african.

          Is Sohu meant to be entirely Indian? All the Cometspawn are half-indian thanks to Jala’s mother, but between the descriptions of Sohu’s appearance and Jala’s ethnically-diverse selection of mates I’m not sure if a) Jala would’ve picked an indian women and b) what part-ethnicity would fit Sohu from what we know.

          Presumably black african and blonde haired blue-eyed white are represented among the Cometspawn, to complete the ethnic starter-type trio initiated by NE asian. The strongest candidates for fourth ranger in my mind are middle eastern, indian subcontinent and native american.

      • B_Epstein says:

        OK, this is too fitting to resist. TCK had a child with Gadiriel: Kanye West.

      • Good Burning Plastic says:

        I thought Chapter 35 explicitly said he had three daughters and one son, but it looks like I remembered incorrectly.

  10. The coment king says:

    1. Awesome chapter. Beforehand I felt that Samyazaz being the drug lord would be a bit off, but this chapter introduced it in a way that felt natural. Also, awesome callback and introduction of Jane.

    2. Nice quoting the Hershel story. I used to love that one when I was eight.

    3. Was Jane doing do celestial Kabbalah? I thought only Sohu could do that.

    4. Me and my ex used to have this thing where we’d make manatee puns. Now I’m sad.

  11. Sniffnoy says:

    Things that are still confusing: Why wouldn’t all the Cometspawn, Jinxiang included, be people that would be immediately recognized? Were some of the Cometspawn kept hidden somehow, and Sohu and (I’m guessing) Nathanda are the only ones everyone would recognize?

    • Suppose you were rescued by a young black woman who claimed to be from Washington DC. Would you immediately recognize if she was Malia Obama, assuming she had dyed her hair and was trying to avoid notice?

      • Ninmesara says:

        Is Obama’s daughter named MALIA?!?!

      • nelshoy says:

        Also, facial recognition is really species-specific. Maybe Angels aren’t as good at it?

      • Decius says:

        What’s the base rate of a given person being a cometspawn? How strong is the evidence of “This person has facial features and gross physical description similar to a cometspawn.”?

        • There are four Cometspawn in the entire universe. I imagine Aaron as having typical white person inability to easily recognize/distinguish Asian faces.

          • Decius says:

            An unnecessary disability. There is a one in two billion chance that a given person is a cometspawn, meaning that at leas million-to-one evidence should be required to promote the hypothesis to consideration of a rational person.

            Which is why it took even the Drug Lord so long to catch on. It’s far more likely for someone to try an insane bluff than for someone to be a cometspawn. But it’s less likely that someone will look like a cometspawn, claim to be one, and confidently threaten to do what only they could do, and that evidence multiplies up quickly.

          • Good Burning Plastic says:

            I kind of doubt there are eight billion people in the Unsongverse 2017, given e.g. the aftermath of the “cancellation” of Taiwan and stuff like that.

      • Anonymous says:

        Umm, I don’t remember how Malia Obama looks like anyway. But don’t live in the Untied States, nor do I consume much news from there, so I guess I’m an outlier and shouldn’t be counted. But If I did have her face in memory, I’d probably have at least a vague feeling of familiarity, and at some point would have recognised her. Aaron and Jane have been on the run for a whole day.

        I imagine Aaron as having typical white person inability to easily recognize/distinguish Asian faces.

        Ordinary complete strangers’ faces I’d accept, but come on, even white people have no trouble recognising Jackie Chan/George Takei/Psy/Lucy Liu/Yoko Ono…

        • Ninmesara says:

          After thinking about this, I agree. Aaron should have at least the “vague feeling of familiarity” at some point in time. If I were American I would probably recognize Malia Obama even if she had dyed her hair.

        • Jack V says:

          I don’t really have a big problem with this. It sort of stuck out that Sohu *would* be recognised and the others *wouldn’t* be. *Not* because it’s unrealistic — of all people politically important or related to politically important people, I think most people recognise very few, only those who are often depicted! But because I didn’t have a reason to suppose there was a difference (which is quite plausible if Sohu is learning to control the universe and the others are controlling colorado, but I didn’t know how famous Sohu was in the present.).

          • Anonymous says:

            The Comet King has been said to have delegated some of his power to his children at some point. So I guess the Cometspawn should be quite famous in their own right anyway. And even if they weren’t, he isn’t just any prominent politician, he’s the goddamned* Comet King. Look at the royal family in the UK: the tabloids are constantly after them, even though the monarch has only nominal power these days. Clearly there’s a market for making them recognisable.

            * figuratively and literally, I guess

        • I don’t think I would recognize any of those people if I saw them on the street or in any context outside a movie/song etc.

          But I might be typical-minding – I don’t recognize my coworkers when I see them out of work because I don’t have enough top-down context for my bottom-up face recognition abilities to pick up the slack. Maybe I’m too face-blind to be able to write this part accurately?

          • Good Burning Plastic says:

            Maybe I鈥檓 too face-blind to be able to write this part accurately?

            Or you can assume that Aaron is also as face-blind.

          • But Jinxiang had to be well-disguised enough that nobody in Los Angeles recognized her and blew her cover.

          • Ninmesara says:

            I think the discussion here comes from that time you wrote (in the comments) that Sohu was famous enough to be recognized by anyone. If you hadn’t written about it, no one would have brought this up. I agree a random America wouldn’t recognize Malia Obama if she had painted her hair, but your comment gave the idea that ten Cometspawn would be as well known as someone like Barack Obama himself. In my opinion, the stry is good as it is.

          • teucer says:

            Perhaps Sohu will do something which shows us why she is more of a celebrity than her siblings.

          • The coment king says:

            If nothing else, she never ages, which would make her both famous and more easily recognizable (since her appearance never changes).

          • Lux Sola says:

            I wouldn’t worry about it. Aaron not catching on is a bit of a stretch, but everyone else had no reason to be suspicious.

            Aaron might not have known about the Skyak ™ and its connection to the Cometspawn, but it should have made him immediately suspicious. Smart, physically capable, clearly has a grudge against The Other King, and most importantly in possession of strange magic that he has never seen before, should have tipped him off that she was no ordinary person.

            Once that happened, he should have been running through his list of possible suspects, and putting together that she was either a Cometspawn, or an extremely trusted agent thereof. And while he might not know what the Cometspawn look like, he probably knows their races (because of all the fuss about it) and their names.

            That said, it’s not a huge SOD breaking moment for an extremely stressed young man with other things on his mind who is being kidnapped benevolently to be a little too preoccupied to try and press the question of “Hey, are you Jinxiang West, the part Chinese Cometspawn?”

        • Anonymous says:

          A data point: I have recently come across this video and became somewhat intrigued by the lady in green. She did seem vaguely familiar to me; though I have not made much of it, and I don’t quite recall putting that particular thought into words.

          Then I looked her up and found out she is a daughter of Andie MacDowell. ‘Oh yeah, that makes sense!’

          I’m not sure if it counts for or against what I wrote before. I suppose I might have had a harder time with an Asian person.

    • The coment king says:

      Jane walked towards us from the far end of the ball court. She still wore her black leather jacket and black leather pants, but her long black hair had streaks of white in it now, and her eyes had flecks of silver, and her looked鈥ifferent?

      This could just be the effect of the spirit world, but it sounds like Jane was making herself look slightly different somehow (she should be 35, but I think Aaron thought she was close to his age when he saw her).

      • Good Burning Plastic says:

        East Asians tend to look younger than Europeans of the same age (who in turn tend to look younger than Africans the same age).

        • Loweeel says:

          Depends on the age. “Black don’t crack.”

        • LPSP says:

          East Asians seem to age via a snap process – they look barely any different for years, and then suddenly turn into prune people overnight. Blacks are the opposite – you see the effects of aging very early, and yet they retain a type of strength and substantial-ness for a long time.

  12. Ninmesara says:

    Samyazaz being the Drug Lord is insteresting and brings the supernatural elements of the story back to jude-christian mythology. I’d like to have had a little more foreshadowing to this fact, or at least something that told you that judeo-christian mythology is really the source of the weird stuff that’s happening, but it’s a good twist.

    Having Aaron outsmarting the Drug Lord is also great, and once you know that the Drug Lord is an angel, using the aramaic trick as a Turing test is something very Aaron.

    There are two things I don’t really get here…

    First, how is Aaron able to resist the Drug Lord? He whould have been able to get the name out of his mind almost instantaneously, right? I get it that for dramatic purposes it is good to have him struggle a little, and making the Drug Lord laboriously extract a couple letters at the time, but that is inconsistent with the way peyote has been shown to work. One thing is to have the Comet King and Jane engaging in spiritual combat with the Drug Lord, but Aaron is no Cometspawn, he is just Aaron, who is a completely ordinary human being. Normal humans are said to be instantaneously overpowered by peyote. Is there anything I’m missing?

    Second, what exactly does the Drug Lord gain from reading Aaron’s mind? Does he think that Ana and Aaron might be misremembering the name in diferent ways and that somehow comparing them both will help him correct the name?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Normal humans are said to be instantaneously overpowered by peyote. Is there anything I鈥檓 missing?

      Probably related to this:

      We鈥檙e not supposed to be in this realm intact, we should be manes like the others, he鈥檚 left us intact so he can get the Name from us

      Although it is possible that Samyazaz is lying.

      • Ninmesara says:

        But why would he need Aaron intact? He is lying about Ana, who is not intact. And he is said to be able to get agricultural knowledge from farmers all over Mexico in order to grow peyote, so I don’t think leaving people intact is necessary to get their knowledge (unless farmers must be kept somehow intact but under control, which is a possibility).

    • CAPTCHA says:

      > using the aramaic trick as a Turing test

      More specifically a CAPTCHA (Confusing Aramaic Phrasing Test to tell Celestials and Humans Apart)

    • Saint Fiasco says:

      It takes a while for the Drug Lord to assume full control. Mostly he relies on his ability to instill a compulsion to take more peyote so his victims enter a feedback loop and slowly lose themselves.

  13. B_Epstein says:

    At least Samyazaz is a learner (growth mindset!). Babel failed due to confusion.

  14. Error says:

    I always appreciate it when I’m mentally shouting at a character that you are being taken for a ride, and then they actually pick up on it.

  15. The coment king says:

    Another interesting point: It looks like the cometspawn have the power to push back the drug lord, but don’t do it. Possibly they like having him as a check on TOK?

    • Lux Sola says:

      If you were fighting a war on three fronts at the minimum (Hell, TOK, and the Drug Lord), and you had the great fortune that two of your enemies (TOK and the Drug Lord) were also at war with each other, would you risk taking out one of them, when that would free up the other to turn all his wrath against you?

      Jane might be able to kill the Drug Lord, permanently. But that doesn’t mean it’s a good tactical decision.

    • Bistromath says:

      We can only speculate as to why the Comet King didn’t (probably it would hurt/kill all the people under his control at the time), but I think that Jane actually doesn’t know exactly what TCK did. She knew who the Drug Lord was and that her father had done something, but not what that something actually was. Her strategy was a bluff to get Samyazaz to release Aaron, and it worked.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:

      I imagine Cometspawn aren’t strong enough to be sure they’ll succeed against the Drug Lord, and the price of failure isn’t just the loss of a Cometspawn, it’s potentially the Drug Lord gaining a Cometspawn (peyote on a skyscraper is perfectly safe, unless you’re important enough for the Drug Lord to send a helicopter). And indeed we see that Jane almost loses here.

  16. LHC says:

    I’m really interested to know what the other Watchers are doing elsewhere on the planet. I wonder if Wall Drug is a Watcher? And as with Worm, it’s clear that, for all the craziness in the states, the rest of the world is having an even crazier time.

    • Anonymous says:

      Wall Drug is a person?

      • LHC says:

        The Drug Lord is some pretty crazy shit. Wall Drug’s not much weirder; it wouldn’t surprise me if it were a conscious entity. The Drug Lord apparently has his own pocket dimension; Wall Drug could at the very least be the pocket dimension of a Drug Lord-like entity that lives there.

  17. LHC says:

    Off-topic (and this chapter was amazing), but this morning I had a really UNSONG-esque plot bunny. Essentially, it’s a world where, as in UNSONG, religion is explicitly true, and the debate isn’t between theists and atheists, but between theists and maltheists. In this world, though, prayer explicitly works and is a two-way communication with Heaven. It doesn’t connect you straight to God, though, but instead connects you to a telephone farm of angels who essentially act as tech support for your life. “Have you tried sinning less?” is generally equivalent to “Have you tried rebooting?”

  18. Sniffnoy says:

    So, there is one thing that bothers me here writing-wise, and that’s that having Samyazaz and Gadiriel both having migrated to the Americas, while being the only two Watchers mentioned by name in Chapter 20, is just a little too tidy. I don’t mean to imply that Unsong as a whole is lacking in crazy plot-irrelevant worldbuilding details, because it certainly isn’t, but this part right here is still a little too tidy. It would work better if there were other Watchers mentioned at some point (some point before this, that is), either in Chapter 20 or elsewhere (or both). That way it wouldn’t seem like “Gee, why have all the Watchers come to the Americas?”, it’d seem like, y’know, those are just the ones we’re encountering.

    (I know Scott has said the story doesn’t really draw on Islamic mythology since he’s not so familiar with that; but with the story being so America-centric, I have to wonder if it should draw more on Mormonism. 馃槢 )

    Or like, here’s something that I don’t think can really reasonably be changed at all, but, like, since Samyazaz plays a larger role in Chapter 20, while Gadiriel is just kind of thrown out there as what initially seems like might just be a small worldbuilding detail, Gadiriel’s return would work better if Samyazaz’s return occurred prior to it in the story. With Gadiriel’s return coming first, people are going to be looking out for Samyazaz to return. If Samyazaz’s return happens first, people are more likely to write off Gadiriel as a small worldbuilding detail and be more surprised when she returns.

    • One way Mormonism could enter the story: Considering the history of the Burned-over district, there must have been a leak of divine light into upstate New York in the early 19th century.

    • Cniz says:

      Assuming the wars between the archangels and Thamiel’s forces bled out mostly in the middle-east area, it would make sense for those wishing not to get involved, such as Gadiriel and Samyazaz, to flee as far away as they could, say to continents outside the Afro-Eurasia landmass. Antarctica being devoid of life leaves only Australia and the Americas; and as the Americas are much larger in both landmass and population (not actually sure about the population part, back then), it’s not too implausible for both to reach the Americas.

    • Jack V says:

      I think that’s a good point, but that it’s hard to avoid happening in sequential fiction. If it were a single novel, it would be easy to add a few more watchers by name earlier, or hint at a few others being active in America even if they’re not specifically named, and it would seem like “perfect conservation of characters” less. But retconning earlier chapters is always tricky.

  19. Would the Cometspawn be able to understand only 75% of Aramaic?

    I figured Samyazaz would re-enter the story. OTOH, I thought he would either be in the construction business, President of the Untied States, or have telepathic control over all drunks.

  20. Svalbardcaretaker says:

    So upon a reread, from Chapter 19:
    Aaron just landed in the Strategic Angel Reserve, reading a book:

    something about how conquering Central and South America and building a giant armada was for losers


  21. ReversionOfTime says:

    Ana asks Aaron to reveal the name to her, to help him before the Drug Lord gets it.
    Ana is actually the Drug Lord.
    Jade asks Aaron to reveal his location to her, to help him before the Other King gets it.
    Jade is actually…

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      No she isn’t (p = 70%; wanna bet?)

    • Ninmesara says:

      Yeah, it was also my first thought on reading that part, but ultimately I think it’s really Jade. On the other hand, Aaron is not being very smart. He should not tell where he is. He should tell Jade to meet him somewhere else and use the Airwalker name and the Spectral name to get there safely.

      • The Pachyderminator says:

        Is he able to do that? I got the impression he might be unconscious or otherwise out of commission on the rooftop for a while, and his choice is between being found by Jane and being found by the Other King.

        • Ninmesara says:

          The old man at the casino became fully conscious just after the Drug Lord left him. And even if he doesn’t decome conscious right away, I can’t see why Aaron shoud remain out of comission while Jane didn’t.

        • The coment king says:

          I think the bigger problem is that they didn’t have much time to coordinate before their connection broke. It’s easier to think of clever obvious ideas when there’s no time pressure.

  22. Lambert says:

    Anyone young and British enough to remember Oucho T. Cactus? Can’t help but see the Drug Lord as him.

    (Sorry if double post.)

  23. Unmaker says:

    In Unsong more than just about any other story I read, I have to ask: is it a typo, or is it wordplay? But I believe this is a typo:
    the the Hebrew word
    (extra ‘the’)

  24. Ninmesara says:

    Next chapter: Jade is captured by the other king and Aaron turns invisible. The other king uses a divine Name to turn into Jade. Aaron now sees two Jades, and each of them tells him she is the real one. Aaron has a gun (because this is America!) and must decide which one to shoot. He asks in aramaic “Who is the real Jade”? One of them looks at him in puzzlement, and the other one answers “I’m the real one” in aramaic. Aaron shoots this one and just as she starts saying the bulletproof name shoots again. He says: “This is one of those times a reincarnated 70BC rabi should pretend not to know aramaic. The bird has fallen, bitch!”

  25. smotd says:

    For a story called UNSONG, there has been surprisingly little of the actual organization UNSONG, especially in this book…

    • Aur Saraf says:

      The story is called Unsong, not UNSONG

    • LPSP says:

      I thought that at first a few months back, but not only is Unsong a pretty relevant and dramatic part of the first book, it’s steadily mounting to an impetus in the background as the increasingly-substantial portion of flashback chapters leads to its founding. Book 3 I imagine will mark the return of Ngo and co. in the story as a major threat, about the time we start to understand their relationship with Thamiel.

  26. anon says:

    So, time to overanalyze Cometspawn names? At least I don’t think it’s been done for Jinxiang yet.

    …I also don’t speak Chinese, but I do know that Jinxiang is a dialect of Wu Chinese, so maybe there’s some tenuous connection to Ally Wu, she of the Kaifeng ancestry?

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I think that’s just the dialect spoken in Jinxiang, it’s not specifically the “name of a dialect”. Also, you’re thinking of Ally Hu.

    • Daniel says:

      Jin Xiang is a composer, who was sentenced to hard labour in Xin Jiang, which was previously known as “the Western Regions”. TINAC,BNIEAC

      Jin xing is Venus, which would fit the overall star theme. But then, would a kabbalist at war with the Devil really want to name his daughter after the Morning Star? Probably not.

  27. XerxesPraelor says:

    Apparently the ‘ana’ doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that Ana is the one being addressed.

    I suspect this is probably a post-factum coincidence, rather than a maneuvered one.

  28. Tina C. Beniac says:

    “her looked. . . different” should likely be either “she looked . . . different” or “her [demeanor/visage/stature/presentation/noun] looked. . . different.”

  29. The coment king says:

    Also, the fake-Ana character was some fantastic character writing – she reads almost like Ana, but just a little bit off character, which is really hard to do through writing alone.

  30. Indubitably says:

    A bit weird that the reunion between Aaron and “Ana” was described so tersely, like “I hugged her. She hugged me. Yay.” Even though it turns out that it’s not truly her, p sure that Aaron does believe it’s her (if I missed a cue that he was already doubtful, sorry), and since this is narrated from his perspective, I would’ve expected, like a wave of relief and joy, and, I don’t know, a bit more fervency to the hug… There was very little passion or enthusiasm in the reunion to strongly emotionally bonded characters that have been apart for many many chapters now.
    I really liked seeing the Jane-Jinxiang transformation. And the “forgive me. I didn’t recognize you when you weren’t yelling.” But I am getting bad vibes from the person who is ostensibly Jane at the end to whom Aaron reveals his location… Maybe that’s paranoid.

    • The coment king says:

      I got the feeling that it was terse because they were still in danger and surrounded by the Drug Lord, so it wasn’t really a place for relief.

      Also, I did get the vibe that Aaron was already a bit suspicious in the back of his mind*, since Ana didn’t react to the “wrong on so many levels” pun.

      *subconsciously? I know Scott doesn’t like psychological theories involving the subconscious, but I don’t know if this counts.

  31. Yossarian says:

    So, the Drug Lord did get a part of the Vital Name from Aaron (and possibly more parts from Ana). Guess now Aaron will have to speed up his world domination schemes, before the Drug Lord and/or theonomic corporations bruteforce the rest of the Name. Wonder how long it might take for a sweatshop to complete it? We were told the whole name was like 64 syllables or something, right?

    • R Flaum says:

      I’m not convinced the Vital Name actually does anything on its own. It seems to me that whoever manipulated Aaron into getting the name in the first place (probably Raziel) is the one who’s actually providing the oomph here. The Vital Name may well be necessary, but I don’t think it’s sufficient.

    • Yossarian says:

      Actually, if the Drug Lord manages to collaborate with the theonomics, Unsong and Malia Ngo, they only have to bruteforce the last six syllables – they could simply look up the last not-Name Aaron tried out in the sweatshop, then bruteforce the MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH-MEH part.

      • Decius says:

        How long will the diagonalization of those six syllables take, if they knew it was “that beginning, and then add some more to the end”.

  32. Macbi says:

    He was sitting in a rocking chair

    One of the advantages of a bubble universe is that you can give yourself knees.

  33. Decius says:

    I was expecting Aaron, about halfway through having the name ripped from his mind, to just start spamming meh-meh-meh-meh-meh-meh-meh.

    Partially to try to jam the name from being stolen, and partially to make it more likely that the Drug Lord would think that he had jammed the name.

  34. Jeffery Mewtamer says:

    Even before I went blind back in 2012, I wouldn’t have been able to pick Barack Obama out of a crowd of light-skinned African-American men with shaved heads. Hell, I’d be hard pressed to tell a Hispanic, East Asian, light-skinned African-American and well tanned White apart without hearing the sound of their voice and wouldn’t know Tom Cruise from John Doe. Replacing an exotic hair and eye color with a more mundane one seems like a perfectly logical way of blending into the crowd whether it was done with hair dye and contacts or with one of the setting’s various branches of magic.

    As for the Cactus man avatar of the Drug Lord, for some reason, I keep coming back to the tall, green half of the duo of spikey aliens from Aqua Teen Hunger Force.

  35. Yossarian says:

    The sun had a face locked in a perpetual grimace.
    So Samyazaz made a labyslo, ib tuyu meme?

  36. Aur Saraf says:

    Unrelated to the chapter but Unsong-themed:

    It’s nice to speak Hebrew natively. A few days ago a friend published on facebook her musing about the Hebrew word for letter of the Alphabet, OT, starting with an Aleph (A) and ending with a Tav (Z). She closed with “this is probably a coincidence”.

    You all aready know my response.

  37. Peter D says:

    So, how does this Aramaic thing work – when Aaron is asking Samyazaz “Ana ba鈥檈y mishal b-shlamek?” does he need to be very careful not to think of the translation in his head, otherwise Samyazaz can simply read the thought and know the translation? This is a hard feat in itself – try not to think of a white bear – but then the follow up question is: suppose an angel comes across a translation of a phase in Aramaic – cannot the angel simply remember the translation? I guess not, because otherwise the angel could have learned the language, eventually. Apparently, the angels forget the sound of the original Aramaic immediately?

    P.S. What about Jewish prayers such a Kaddish, which are in Aramaic? What did rabbis say about it – it is supposed to cut the angel middlemen out, so to speak? I should probably seach an answer on Google…

    • Peter D says:

      Aha, the answer to my PS is right here:

      According to sources they quote, we recite the kaddish in Aramaic because we do not want the angels to understand and be jealous of this great prayer; and according to our tradition, angels do not understand Aramaic.

    • Anonymous says:

      People who know a foreign language on a sufficiently intimate level are capable of thinking in that language directly; they don’t translate things in their heads to their native language.

      On the other hand, Aaron isn’t exactly said to be on that level.

      So we decided to learn Aramaic, so that we could gossip as much as we wanted and the angels couldn鈥檛 listen in.

      Neither of us was very good at it yet, but that didn鈥檛 matter, because I was saying the practice sentences from 鈥淎ramaic Made Easy: A Beginner鈥檚 Guide.鈥

      But on the third hand, it is implied here that Samyazaz can merely intercept telepathy, not actively access other people’s thoughts; telepathy seems to take some conscious effort to communicate more than emotions. And I mean, you could make the same argument and say Aaron has to keep reminding himself ‘don’t think of the Vital Name, don’t think of the Vital Name…’

      • Peter D says:

        Well, TDL can also search in Aaron’s mind, this is how he is extracting the Vital Name prior to the battle. True, maybe he is too busy fighting Jane to be able to do it now. As regards “not thinking of the Vital Name”, yes, that too, but this is easier, than not thinking of a simple translation of a phrase, since the VN is long and complicated; it actually requires an effort to remember.
        Also, how to distinguish between regular thoughts and thoughts you telepathically send to somebody: how do you control that? There are so many thoughts in our heads going on at the same time – how do we send some telepathically, while leave others “inside”?

      • sully says:

        Even before the level of fluency, repeating some of the canned phrases you learn early on generally doesn’t require thinking about a translation. I can ask “D贸nde est谩 la biblioteca?” without having to translate anything

    • Decius says:

      Even if the angel could learn the translation of all of the passages of Aramaic, they could never learn (speak? I’d have to check the exact restriction) the language.

      The drug lord could learn what the question meant, learn what the appropriate response meant, but would still not be able to say the reponse, because knowing the translation is not knowing the original.

  38. Ya Totach says:

    Scott, please tell me that the Other King doesn’t look like a big green bat.

  39. Aris Katsaris says:

    > The Drug Lord looked down at me bemusedly

    Is ‘bemused’ supposed to mean ‘confused’ or ‘amused’? Every dictionary seems to say it means ‘confused’, but every time I see anyone actually use the word in the internet, they seem to mean ‘amused’.

    • LPSP says:

      It doesn’t just mean confused, it includes a sense of neutrality or acceptance of the confusing thing. Between that and its “muse” ending, it’s probably inevitable that it would come to be commonly used to mean “confused and amused”.

  40. Stib says:

    Going back to a point of discussion from a long time ago, if the Vanishing Name brought Aaron from Malia Ngo to Jane, a Cometspawn, then Malia Ngo is…

    • Ninmesara says:

      I was going to say that the Spectral name seems to work on Jane and it doesn’t work on Malia, but on rereading it is is not quite true. Jane knows that Aaron is invisible, but we never get any clue as to whether she is able to see him or not. She could be in the same situation as Malia: she knows that Aaron is invisible to moste people but not to her.

      If Malia is a Cometspawn, then she is not on Jane’s side, which is something that must be explained. If she were on Jane’s side, I’m sure she would be able to get permission to get the book from the Angelic reserve.

      • Anonymous says:

        Malia is not a Cometspawn. We already known the names of three daughters of The Comet King, and his fourth child is male.

        Nine months later, four physically fit, intelligent women gave birth to four genetic-disease-free, racially diverse babies.

        The Comet King had no more children.

        鈥淪ohu,鈥 said the Comet King, 鈥渂efore you and your sisters and brother were born, I thought of you as strategic assets. […]鈥

        Unless, of course, Malia Ngo is Nathanda West in disguise… but that would be too boring, wouldn’t it?

        Or maybe Maila Ngo is The Comet King’s son in disguise. That would be less boring.

        • Ninmesara says:

          Sure, why not? Aaron can’t identify her ethnicity because of bad plastic surgery (eyes in the wrong place and all that). Without modern technology, cosmetic surgery is not what it used to be.

          • wubbles says:

            Cosmetic surgery is not that high tech. Laser resurfacing probably won’t work, but surgical instruments of sufficient sharpness are easy, as are anesthetics and antibiotics. They were doing plastic surgery in Ancient Egypt and India.

          • Ninmesara says:

            I know, I was just kidding 馃檪

      • Anonymous says:

        Also, the powers of the Cometspawn are not all the same.


        鈥淣o, I asked them,鈥 said Sohu. 鈥淏ut they can鈥檛 wiggle their ears either.鈥

        • Stib says:

          Wait, that brings up a good point. The original context of that question referred to celestial kabbalah, right? So how come Jinxiang can also do it?

          • Good Burning Plastic says:

            Maybe Jane can do it in the peyote world but not in the real world.

          • benzrf says:

            Sohu didn’t say her siblings couldn’t do celestial kabbalah. She said they can’t wiggle their ears 馃槈

          • ADifferentAnonymous says:

            Sohu said that shortly after deviling the gift, so it’s possible she was just the earliest of the Cometspawn to develop it–or that she figured out how to teach the others.

        • LPSP says:

          The idea of a Cometspawn shapeshifter is intriguelising.

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      …the Other King’s daughter?

  41. If people who are part angel and part human have special powers, does that also include Samyazaz’s descendants? Will we see a fight between the Cometspawn and the Cactusspawn?

    Wait a moment… I just realized that Malia Ngo might be one of them.

  42. Jack V says:

    FWIW, I loved the “not really Ana” stuff. It’s hard to write someone as clearly Ana, but “off”, and clearly that was obvious to many people and unforseen for some, but for me it worked just perfectly, I accepted the false Ana as Ana, but I could tell something was off, and then the real Ana was much much more obviously Ana.

    But Aaron was really smart to verify with Aramaic — after all, it turns out that Sam could alter Aaron’s external perception, but not his perception of “this just feels right/wrong”, but Aaron had no way of knowing that in advance.

    • Ninmesara says:

      I agree completely.

    • ADifferentAnonymous says:


      I just started rereading, and “Then a flood of pure relief and happiness. No affection, no confusion, just gladness that I was here.” is a great example. Not a crazy red flag, but in hindsight that purity makes sense for someone playing emotions like keys on a piano rather than sharing an actual mental state.

  43. Eric says:

    Perhaps the other king is some other figure? Sataniel, perhaps?

  44. Would Samyazaz be able to control the mind of someone whose native language is Aramaic? Maybe he was unable and that’s why he feared the Other King.

    How did he know that Ana might have had the Vital Name? Did Gadiriel talk?

    • LPSP says:

      Mayhaps Aramaic was created BY the fall of the Tower of Babylon, to deliberately fuck with any angels who might interfere and speed up the reintroduction of lingua franca.

      • The coment king says:

        That was my interpretation – when Samyazaz couldn’t talk to that slave, I understood it as an additional rule Thamiel made to screw with Samyazaz.

        • Peter D says:

          FWIW, from what I understand, angels stopped understanding Aramaic after the rabbis came up with the idea, was after the tower of Babel. The reality was retconned to comply with the rabbis’ decree because “it is not in Heaven”. Not sure Thamiel has anything to do with that.

          • Sniffnoy says:

            I don’t think the idea is that the angels stopped understanding Aramaic after the rabbis came up with that idea, I think it’s that they always didn’t understand Aramaic, even though the rabbis’ reasoning was totally bogus. It’s not that anyone has the ability to “retcon reality”, it’s that reality works in such a way that these things just end up working out.

          • Peter D says:

            I searched to see where I could have gotten the idea, and I guess it is based on this comment:

            Rabbinical consensus can overrule the voice of G-d. Angels speaking Aramaic is an issue of Torah, therefore the Sanhedrin has the power to declare that they do not(this takes effect retroactively).

            Not sure of Eliezer’s (the commenter) authority, but I like this explanation 馃檪

  45. Harry says:

    I just saw this Pokemon theory video that strongly reminded me of Unsong. Someone should do an Unsong/Pokemon crossover. If you watch this video you will see why.

  46. This chapter served to remind me by way of predictable associations of music I’m rather fond of: Tzolk’in. Most of it happens to fit nicely to the creepiness of the chapter, too. Have a sample: Tzolk’in – Tezcatlipoca.

  47. Anonymous says:

    I could tell you my deepest loves and fears, how much you mean to me, what I felt when I said I was coming to rescue you.

    It doesn’t sound right for Ana to say this. I’m surprised nobody has caught this.

  48. R Flaum says:

    For a second, we all just looked at each other, taking stock. Me. Jane.

    No, me Tarzan. You Jane.

  49. tuukka says:

    鈥淭he prisoners are yours,鈥 set the Drug Lord


  50. Brian Schapp says:

    She was Cometspawn. Something primal in me leapt to obey her.

    I wonder if this means that Cometspawn have subtle supernatural charisma (obviously minor, given how the Comet King couldn’t take over the world just by telling people to serve him), or if it’s just the natural consequence of being a superhuman with a history of doing awesome things who just saved your life. I’m betting on the latter.

  51. Adam says:


    “the Drug Lord, who鈥檚 listening in on us for sure, would overheard.”
    “It sounds crazy, but if had been this Ana”

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